Dear Rabbi Fried,
I understand that you published a new book about conversion which some people were talking about and said it was unique, and I wondered what about it is unique since I’m sure many books have been published about conversion over the years. Also, is it available in English so I can read it?
I’m glad people are talking about it!
The new book (sefer) is called “Emes Va’tzedek,” which means Truth and Righteousness. Those are terms which refer to a Gentile who converts to Judaism truthfully, meaning out of recognition of the truth, and does so with the right motivation, righteousness.
It is true that there are numerous, wonderful and scholarly volumes in print discussing conversion to Judaism. I, personally, have two or three shelves of them in my home library!
When I studied these laws and the Talmudic sources with the DATA rabbis some 15 years ago, we realized there was something lacking in the scholarly literature. This area of Jewish law, like all others, is based upon the rulings of the Shulchan Aruch, the “Code of Jewish Law” (authored in Safed by R’ Yosef Karo and first published in 1565). This book is the accepted foundation of Jewish law by Jews worldwide.
There are two sections in the Shulchan Aruch dealing exclusively with the laws of conversion. Since, however, conversion was seldom performed in earlier years for a variety of reasons, the Shulchan Aruch is extremely concise. Although it discusses the key concepts of conversion and what is required of the convert to become Jewish, there are myriad issues and questions which have arisen in recent years when conversion has become prevalent.
There was clearly a need for a new commentary which would elucidate the meaning of the Shulchan Aruch and at the same time incorporate into that commentary the rulings of contemporary sages and scholars dealing with the many questions which have arisen.
Upon our investigation, it became clear that no such work existed. In my naïveté, I thought that since the sections of Shulchan Aruch are not that long, this is a need that could be filled without too big of a time commitment and within a couple of years I could research and author such a work.
Once I embarked upon this path and began the research, it grew and grew, and now, 15 years later, it was finally completed!
In order to make it more useful for rabbis and rabbinical students who want to delve more deeply into the subject matter, the second half of the book provides the Talmudic and halachic sources for all discussed in the main commentary, with its depth and breadth, to give a deeper and better understanding of the Jewish law.
Unfortunately, the nature of this type of work doesn’t lend itself to English translation.
I am truly humbled to have published a work on such a sensitive and deep topic. It is my hope and prayer that it brings a clearer understanding of this crucial topic to those involved in it, further strengthening the Jewish people for generations to come.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried is dean of DATA (Dallas Area Torah Association).